Road tripping in Southern Utah
Words and photos by Ryan Wilson
Utah has always been on a list with Colorado, the Alps, Pyrenees, and few other places that I’ve wanted to go to, but knew I’d never have enough time to do and see everything I wanted to do there. It always made me hesitant to commit to a shorter trip. However, a few weeks ago I saw a small window of opportunity, and finally decided I’d rather see a fraction of it than none, so I took the 6 hour haul from Los Angeles to the southwestern corner of Utah to hit a few big climbs and national parks. The plan was to try to squeeze a couple rides and hikes in through Zion, Bryce, and some of the surrounding mountains in 4 days.
Day one started early, but it’s never early enough when you’ve got 6+ hours to drive to the first ride of the trip. By the time I got rolling up the 23 mile climb to Kolob Reservoir along the western edge of Zion National Park, it was already 1:30pm (Mountain time), with temperatures hitting triple digits. I spent what seemed like the entire ride working my legs out of their road trip coma, even with the help of a generous tailwind that I would pay dearly for a few hours later.
Having done most of my riding in California, the change of landscape in Utah was an immediate and welcome change of pace. Trading in golden hills, granite peaks, and redwoods for red cliffs, buttes, and hoodoos. Eventually climbing above the cliffs and into high country.
If I’ve learned anything in doing these rides in unfamiliar areas it’s that no matter how solid the plan seems going in, it’s always a good idea to deviate from that when an opportunity present itself. Rarely do I do a route now without taking short (or long) detours on little off-the-grid side roads that I didn’t notice on the map beforehand, but look too good to just pass by.
The following days I climbed one of the highest roads in Utah through Dixie National Forest, hiked through Bryce Canyon, and eventually made my way back to Zion via the eastern entrance. Entering Zion Canyon for the first time was comparable only to the feeling I get being surrounded by granite cliffs in Yosemite Valley. The section of switchbacks on the road out of the canyon toward the Zion tunnel is one of the most amazing stretches of road I’ve ever ridden (just make sure to get there early in the morning to beat the traffic).
Possibly the most memorable part of the trip to Utah didn’t involve a bike at all, though. On the 3rd day I decided at the last minute to hike through “The Narrows” along the Virgin river. Typically this is one you want to be at least slightly prepared for as it involves walking (wading) about 6 miles directly up stream and back on a river that runs through a narrow gorge surrounded by 1,300+ft cliffs, with water as deep as 3-4 feet at times, the entire width of the “trail”. Wearing normal shoes, and not having an extra pair around is not ideal, but it turns out it is totally worth it.
On the way back to Los Angeles on the final day, knowing I didn’t want to drive all the way through the inland empire at rush hour on a weekday anyways, I decided to make one last detour to the “Valley of Fire” in Nevada. I had no real idea what to expect from it, but I just about flipped out when I ended up on a little road through the park called “Mouse’s Tank road”. Trust me, if you’re ever in the area, check it out.
A few Strava routes from the trip: